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How to Stop the World From Drowning in Single-Use Plastic

April 09, 2019

 

Roughly 300 million tons of plastic are produced each year, nearly equivalent to the weight of all humans on the planet.

Half of this is single-use plastic, meaning it is used once then throw away. Some of the most common products of single-use plastic includes drinking straws, cups, cutlery, packaging and shopping bags. This plastic usually goes into a landfill, where it is buried or gets into water and finds its way into the ocean.

The sheer volume of plastic produced makes it difficult to recycle, and many countries do not have adequate plastic recycling programs in place. Consequently, only 10 to 13% of plastic is recycled worldwide.

Most plastic is produced from petroleum, which makes it non-biodegradable; that is, it cannot be broken down by soil microorganisms. Although plastic will not biodegrade, it does photodegrade into into tiny particles after 450-1,000 years, creating micro-plastics. In the process of breaking down, plastics release toxic chemicals, which make their way into our food and water supply.

The World Economic Forum has said that unless we do something drastic, there will be more plastic in our oceans than fish by 2050. While this sounds like a hopeless situation, being more mindful of our consumption of single-use plastics can go a long way towards helping to solve this problem.

Simple Solutions for the Biggest Culprits

About 500 million plastic straws are thrown away every day. Just by using a stainless steel or glass straw, or not using a straw at all, you can help bring this number down.

While not all plastics can be recycled, 80% of glass can be. Glass jars also don’t contain the chemicals in plastic that can leach into food, and glass can be safely washed at high temperatures and reused. So always choose glass over plastic if possible.

15 Tips to Cut Down on Single-Use Plastics:

  • Bring reusable bags to the store to avoid produce and checkout bags (a single plastic bag can take 1000 years to degrade).
  • Use re-usable containers for storing leftovers, packing lunches or shopping in bulk (rice, pasta, cereal, etc.)
  • Give up gum. It’s made of synthetic rubber, in other words, plastic, and is the 2nd most common form of litter behind cigarette butts.
  • Resell or donate gently used clothes and shoes or recycle worn items through textile recycling programs.
  • If you’re moving or work in transport, protect your items with recycled paper or shredded cardboard instead of bubble wrap or packing peanuts.
  • Buy goods like washing powder in boxes instead of plastic as cardboard is easier to recycle.
  • Better yet, make your own cleaning products in bulk to eliminate the need for multiple plastic containers. It takes about 20 minutes to make an eco-friendly clothes washing solution with grated castile soap (7 ounces), hot water (2.5 gallons) and washing soda (3.4 fluid ounces).
  • Bring a reusable mug to coffee shops (which often means a discount) and a reusable water bottle to work, the gym, etc.
  • Ask your company’s suppliers to cut down on unnecessary plastic packaging, which accounts for 40% of single-use plastic.
  • Bring your own container for restaurant leftovers. Many restaurants use Styrofoam for this purpose, which contains harmful polystyrene that leaches into food, especially when reheated, and is completely non-biodegradable.
  • Use matches or a refillable metal lighter instead of disposable lighters.
  • Rather than buying fruit juice in a plastic container, eat whole fruit. It’s healthier for you and the environment.
  • Use a razor with disposable blades instead of plastic razors that you throw away completely.
  • Use bars of soap (not packaged in plastic), instead of liquid soap in a plastic container.
  • Opt for Q tips (cotton buds) with paper centers, rather than plastic.

Once you start thinking about what single-use plastics you use, you will probably come up with more ideas on where and how to cut down. Remember that every little bit helps!